METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL OF RIO DE JANEIRO
THE METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL OF RIO DE JANEIRO
The Metropolitan Cathedral of São Sebastião of Rio de Janeiro stands out amongst the buildings Downtown. Its unique architecture attracts the attention of everyone who passes by and surprises those who visit it! Its appearance and history are very unusual and make it one of the most curious sights in the marvellous city!
The Cathedral is open every day from 07 AM to 05 PM and the visitation is completely free!
THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL
The Cathedral was idealized by Cardinal Câmara and his private secretary, and future executor of the works, Monsignor Ivo Antônio Calliari. The architect was Edgar de Oliveira da Fonseca, the engineer Newton Sotto Maior and the master builder Joaquim Corrêa.
The Metropolitan Cathedral is 75 meters high and 64 meters high, 106 meters of external diameter and 96 meters of internal diameter. Four stained glass windows are distributed along its diameter, each measuring 64.50 x 17.80 x 9.60 meters. The Cathedral also has an area of 8,000 m², with capacity for 20,000 people standing or 5,000 seated!
The Cathedral Crypt is in the basement, under the main altar. The Archdiocesan Archive is also in the basement, containing a rich collection of documents. Such documents trace a social, political and religious profile of the city since when the church was still responsible for different areas of the population’s life.
Anyone who sees the Metropolitan Cathedral from the outside, usually does not identify it as a Catholic church mainly because you can’t see one of the most traditional characteristics of Catholic buildings: the cross at the top. However, just like all Catholic churches, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro also has the cross as its ultimate symbol.
As soon as we enter the Cathedral we notice a huge Greek cross at the top, located in the center of a circle 30 meters in circumference. The cross, made of transparent material, illuminated by the natural light that spreads through it, represents the presence of Christ amongst men.
From an architectural point of view, building the cross and the circle was a great challenge. The Mayan pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, inspired the solution to carry out this project. The pyramid has a wide square base and narrows until it reaches the shape of a plateau at the top.
However, unlike the Mayan pyramids, the base of the Metropolitan Cathedral has a circular and conical shape as it represents the equidistance and proximity of people before God. Its shape also refers to the miter worn by bishops in solemn ceremonies.
The Cathedral’s four stained glass windows are positioned according to the cardinal points. Symbolically, they are extensions of the cross, through which God’s blessing descends to men. The stained glass reaffirm the purpose of the Cathedral, representing the four fundamental characteristics of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
THE STAINED GLASSES
One, in green, represents the elements of unity of the church. In the stained glass window, we see the shepherd and his sheep, the Bible and the papal tiara, representing a government, and the chalice representing a cult.
Holy, in red, concerns two qualities of the Church: it is sanctified and sanctifying. Its stained glass illustrates a group of saints, the crown of thorns and the tongues of fire of the holy spirit.
Catholic, in blue, refers to the Church’s mission to save men. This stained glass window depicts people of all races, the symbols of the four evangelists (Mathew, Luke, Mark and John) and the Globus mundi.
Apostolic, in yellow, alludes to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Jesus, sends his disciples who provide the testimonies upon which the Church bases the doctrine it must pass on. The window shows the Bishop, the Pope, Saint Peter, and the Passion symbols: spear, nails, sponge, cross and winding sheet.
THE PATRON OF THE CITY
The city was founded in 1565 and named São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. Although Saint Sebastian was very popular with the Portuguese, the name of the city was also a tribute to the then boy king Dom Sebastião of Portugal and Algarves.
The founding of the city of Rio de Janeiro was part of an effort by Portuguese colonizers against the French invasion. Interestingly, the battle that ensured the Portuguese victory took place on the day of Saint Sebastian, on January 20, 1567. Legend has it that the saint fought alongside the Portuguese during the battle.
Learn more with our post about the History of Rio de Janeiro!
Founded in 1676, the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro did not have a headquarters with its own cathedral. For centuries, it had to use other churches. During its first 58 years of existence it stayed in a chapel built in the former Castelo Hill.
In 1734, it moved to the church of Santa Cruz do Militares and remained until 1737. Then, it moved to the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário and São Benedito dos Homens Pretos, where it would remain until 1808.
In 1808, the Portuguese royal family disembarked in Rio de Janeiro. Dom João VI, Regent Prince of Portugal, turned the church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo into his Royal Chapel. Thus, the church also became a Cathedral. The Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro would stay there until the second half of the 20th century.
For many years the Archdiocese sought support from government officials to build an exclusive place to house it. Only in 1964 did the State of Guanabara granted the land to build the Cathedral. The dismantling of Santo Antônio Hill, created and area to house the new construction. On January 20, 1964, the project begins with the laying of the cornerstone by D. Jaime de Barros Câmara, under Pope Paul VI.
The first mass of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro was celebrated by D. Eugenio de Araújo Sales in 1972. However, two later dates are considered the real milestones of its inauguration. In 1976, when the Archdiocese celebrated its Tricentennial and the Cathedral of São Sebastião had its sacred high altar. The other date was in 1979, when D. Eugenio celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his episcopal ordination, making the solemn Dedication of the New Temple.
Visit the official page for the Metropolitan.